Just set up the season pass already, and prepare to be wowed by "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" (9 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox/National Geographic Channel).
There are a lot of shows on TV that are fun, many that are educational and a number that are beautiful to look at, but it's rare for a show to have all of those qualities in abundance. This updated version of the Carl Sagan classic is a treat in any number of ways, not least because it transmits the joy and wonder that was the hallmark of "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," which debuted on PBS billions and billions of years ago. (All right, it was only 34 years ago.)
During that time, there have been many developments and discoveries in science and technology, and enormous leaps and bounds have occurred in the realm of special effects. This new "Cosmos," which is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, has been lovingly created with the goal of making members of the audience repeatedly say "whoa," and the first installment succeeds in that arena.
Whatever you do, please don't watch the new "Cosmos" on your phone or even on a tablet: For the love of Sagan, try to watch it in glorious HD, if you can. This is engaging eye candy that makes the grandeur of space come alive, and if you can see that for yourself on a big screen, all the better.
The new "Cosmos" keeps alive the spirit of Sagan and his groovy turtlenecks while not slavishly imitating the previous show's content. That said, there are some commonalities: Tyson voyages through the universe in a "Ship of the Imagination," and there are organizing principles that unify a few longer segments within the hour. An animated section on Renaissance monk Giordano Bruno goes into detail about the ferocious opposition faced by early thinkers whose theories flew in the face of the common wisdom of the time. Others may disagree, but I didn't see the segment as an attack on organized religion, but rather as a celebration of a man who stuck to expansive ideas about just how big his God could be.
It's not often that you can praise Fox for its family-friendly programming, but "Cosmos" fills that bill very nicely. That makes it all the more weird that Seth MacFarlane is one of the executive producers, but it's not a bad thing for the "Family Guy" creator to deploy some of his power to help get this made. (Sagan's original collaborators, including Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, are also on board for this version.)
All in all, the swelling music by Alan Sylvestri, Tyson's briskly narrated travels through time and space and the show's beguiling mixture of wonder and fun makes for a pretty heady combination. As was the case with the original, there is an agenda at work here: It's to make the audience feel hopeful, against much available evidence, about the future of the universe, or at least our tiny corner of it. The first "Cosmos," to which Tyson pays loving tribute in the season premiere, helped create a whole generation of earnest science nerds, and we can only hope that the new version does the same.
Is it all too much, though? At one point, when Tyson was visually and verbally explaining the sheer vastness of space-time, my 11 year-old son exclaimed, "I feel like we're not supposed to know this!"
I knew what he was trying to say: Something along the lines of "This science is too awesome -- are we worthy?" mixed with "I feel kind of small now."
We are small: In their own ways, Sagan and Tyson both make it clear that humans are blips on the intergalactic calendar. Who would have thought the knowledge of our own insignificance could bring hope instead of despair? But this "Cosmos," as was the case with the last one, glides along on the knowledge that an infinite number of universes and all their enigmatic beauty will remain long after we're gone.
"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" premieres on several networks 9 p.m. ET Sunday, among them Fox, National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, FOX Sports 1 and Nat Geo Wild. Future episodes will air 9 p.m. ET Sundays on Fox and 10 p.m. ET Mondays on National Geographic Channel.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect title for a new show on Fox. It is "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."
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